Tuesday 17 October 2017

A breath of fresh air in an era dominated by agents

Jason Burt meets the unassuming but supremely talented Jordon Ibe

Jordan Ibe in action against West Brom duo Craig Dawson and Craig Gardner says his ‘mum has always kept me humble’
Jordan Ibe in action against West Brom duo Craig Dawson and Craig Gardner says his ‘mum has always kept me humble’

Jason Burt

Jordon Ibe is in the middle of contract negotiations at Liverpool over a new five-year deal, but there is no agent involved. Ibe will not allow it. Why? Because he does not see why players need agents. "I don't believe in that," Ibe says. "I don't really see the need for one. My parents are doing the same job. And my family will always be number one to me."

Obviously, there have been plenty of approaches to represent the 19-year-old, one of the most coveted teenagers in English football who has now broken into the Liverpool first team. But he is not interested. Indeed, Ibe is adamant he will not have an agent at any point. "My concern was playing football," he stresses. "If I needed help deciding contracts, I would go to my parents. So, hopefully, everything will get sorted by the end of the season. I think my parents can do the job."

Was it because he had a bad experience with an agent? "Not at all," Ibe says. "It's my opinion. I don't see what they can do that my parents can't. They're family. I have the final decision."

It might come as a relief to Liverpool fans, given the concerns over Raheem Sterling's future, but Ibe is not making a comparison with his friend, someone who he evidently looks up to and wants to emulate. "I just see the way he plays," he says of Sterling. "He speaks to me off the pitch as well as on it, and he speaks to me about football and what I should do and a lot of other things. Daniel [Sturridge] does, too."

So, what is the biggest lesson he learns from Sterling? "His mentality," Ibe says. "That's a big thing. If things are not going his way, or he is not playing well in a game, he will still deliver, whether that's an end product, or getting a goal. That's one thing I'm trying to learn."

Ibe, a winger who can play off either foot, is a prodigious talent and one who has been in demand. Aged 15 at Wycombe Wanderers, he chose Liverpool ahead of Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, although he made the Anfield club wait a year.

"I always wanted to come to Liverpool," he says. "To be fair, they came in for me when I was 14. I didn't want to go and leave home. But when they came back in and the time was right, then I came up to Merseyside."

Even so, it happened incredibly quickly. Ibe, who had been released by Charlton Athletic aged 12 after he suffered from growing pains, was spotted by Wycombe scout Michael Carnegie when he was playing for his London borough. Aged 15 years and 325 days, he became the youngest Football League scorer with a brilliant solo goal on his debut against Sheffield Wednesday. He ran to his mum, Charlett, in the crowd and was booked for his celebrations. "I was just delighted, I will never forget that day," he says.

It was a Saturday afternoon. On Monday morning he was back at school - Sacred Heart in Camberwell, south east London - as a year 11 pupil, although Ms Antoniou's science lesson took an unusual turn as she allowed the class to watch a video of Ibe's debut. "I went back to school as normal," Ibe says. "Everyone spoke to me, everyone was delighted. I didn't want to go to school [laughs]. No, I enjoyed it. Things were all the same. My mum has always kept me humble. I had a great relationship with all the staff and all the teachers anyway, so everything was all right. If there was hard work to do because I was away at the football, I could catch up on it. I had a tutor at Wycombe anyway."

To put things in context, six months earlier, Ibe had helped Sacred Heart win the Year 10 (under-15) Inner London Cup. Six weeks after the Wycombe goal, he signed for Liverpool for £750,000. "My family moved up," Ibe says, and he was encouraged by Liverpool's commitment to young players - a policy that has been accelerated under Brendan Rodgers, who recalled him in January from a loan spell at Derby County.

"I thought I would be at Derby for the rest of the season," Ibe says, admitting he was concerned he would not play at Liverpool if he came back. "Yes, that was the doubt," he explains. "But everything has gone well and I must thank the gaffer. He spoke to me prior to me coming back and said the way we were playing would give me the chance to fit in. I spoke to my parents and we came to the decision that if the gaffer says I have to come back, then I have to. I can't say no! "

Ibe started big games against Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Besiktas in the Europa League, and although his progress was halted for a while through a knee injury, he is back and hopes to feature in today's encounter at Stamford Bridge against the champions, Chelsea, the club he vaguely supported as a young boy, before ditching them when he watched Liverpool's 2005 Champions League triumph on television.

Starting against Everton in the Merseyside derby was key for him. "You could see how big the game was, and he [Rodgers] gave me the chance," Ibe says before explaining how he found out he was in the team. "It was Friday evening in training. We were just doing formations and he read out the starting 11 and said my name. I was a bit confused [laughs]. I was a bit nervous to be fair, but in the game I was fine."

Rodgers' faith has been a boost: "There are a lot of youngsters coming through who will get the chance to impress, and it's great because there are a lot of opportunities now. There is me trying to come through and Raheem has already established himself. There are players like Cam [Cameron] Brannagan, Jordan Rossiter, Jerome Sinclair, Joao [Teixeira], Sheyi [Ojo]. Some are out on loan. Hopefully, they can come back pre-season, and get a chance. It's about them proving themselves. Obviously, the manager, he likes to play young players. So if they can get a chance, there is a possibility."

Ibe has another decision to make. He has to decide whether to pledge his allegiance to England or Nigeria, who he qualifies for through his biological father, David. There have been suggestions that Gareth Southgate will call him into his under-21 squad for the forthcoming Euro finals, but he has yet to receive a call.

"I will just sit down with my family and make that decision," Ibe says. "I will also speak to the gaffer here and see what's best."

Telegraph

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